“Being honest, I think we should be No. 1 in the league,” Cox said Thursday on Comcast SportsNet’s Quick Slants (via CSN Philly’s Reuben Frank). “I say that for (several) reasons. We have a bunch of great guys, and they are going to put everything they got on the field. They are going to leave it on the field. They are a bunch of selfless guy that’s going to play for another and to let each other know they are there to win the games.”
That bunch of great guys Cox is referring to includes himself, defensive linemen Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan, and linebackers DeMeco Ryans, Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham and Kiko Alonso, whom the Eagles received in the trade that sent LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills.
Cox is coming off a year in which he racked up 61 tackles and four sacks. Meanwhile, Barwin finished fourth in the NFL with 14.5 sacks from outside linebacker, earning his first trip to a Pro Bowl.
But Cox chose to recognize fellow defensive end Cedric Thornton as an underappreciated asset up front for the Eagles.
“He's a hard-nosed guy who comes out every day in practice, even on game day, just to show the whole NFL that he can be one of the top guys,” Cox said. “I talk to him every day [about] how he just wants to better himself. We watch each other, learn from each other and we compete against each other.”
Thornton had 52 tackles and 1 sack in 2014, standing out as a brick wall against the run, where he ranked in the eight in the league among all 3-4 defensive ends, according to Pro Football Focus. He recorded 28 defensive stops, which was among the league leaders at his position.
The newcomer Alonso may be the biggest question mark in the Eagles’ front seven. A favorite of Chip Kelly’s at the University of Oregon, the 24-year-old linebacker is returning from a torn ACL that forced him to miss the entire season. While a torn ACL is hardly the career-ender it once was, the impact it will have on him is yet to be seen.
The odds are in the Eagles’ favor, however. Alonso was phenomenal during his rookie season at Buffalo, register 149 tackles, two sacks and four interception en route to a Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. As long as Kelly and company can be patient with him, there’s no reason to believe Alonso will not remain a lethal force once he’s returned to full health.
Cox is right: the Eagles’ front seven should be, at the very least, one of the best in the league. Unfortunately for them, it’s their secondary that remains the biggest worry heading into training camp. If they’re going to survive a pass-happy NFL and regain the NFC East crown, the pressure rests on the secondary’s shoulders to exceed expectations and help guide Philadelphia back to the top.
Lou Musto is the publisher for WarNest.com. You can follow him on Twitter